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Ford introduces its first hands-free technology

BlueCruise will be available on two models later this year

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Photo (c) kickers - Getty Images
Ford has announced the launch of BlueCruise, a hands-free driving technology that will allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel on over 100,000 miles of divided highways.

When the technology is ready to roll out, owners of 2021 F-150 pickups and Mustang Mach-E electric SUVs that are equipped with BlueCruise hardware can pay a $600 subscription fee and download the software.

Ford said it expects as many as 100,000 customers to take advantage of the new technology by the end of the year, bringing the automaker a step closer to self-driving capability. It puts the company on par with Cadillac’s SuperCruise system, which has been around for the last four years.

Both Ford and General Motors say their systems are a step above Tesla’s AutoPilot, which the company has repeatedly stressed is not a hands-free system. However, investigations of a number of Tesla accidents over the years have shown that some drivers have used it that way.

‘Mother of all road trips’

Ford said 500,000 miles of development testing and fine-tuning will have gone into the BlueCruise testing by the time it’s ready for distribution to Ford customers later this year. Over the last 12 months, Ford has dispatched a fleet of 10 test vehicles – five F-150 pickups and five all-electric Mustang Mach-E SUVs – to complete what test drivers dubbed the “mother of all road trips.” 

The trip covered more than 110,000 miles through 37 states and five Canadian provinces to put BlueCruise to the test against a wide range of road, weather, and traffic conditions.

“There are highway intricacies and driving conditions that you simply cannot replicate in a lab,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s chief product platform and operations officer. “Sending these vehicles out for real-world driving experience is just one of many ways we ensured that BlueCruise technology offers confidence and convenience for drivers all across the continent.”  

Required hardware

To use the system, Ford vehicles must be equipped with Ford Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 Prep Package. The software is updated through an over-the-air internet connection.

Ford executives say the extended road trip was necessary to test the system because every state builds roads a little differently. Factors like lane line degradation, weather, and construction add to the complexity, they said.

Ford said the system uses both advanced camera and radar-sensing technologies and has built upon existing technologies, such as Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go, Lane Centering, and Speed Sign Recognition.

The system will only work on specific four-lane highways in North America that are dedicated Hands-Free Blue Zones in the Ford GPS mapping system. BlueCruise will use blue lighting on the digital instrument cluster to indicate when the vehicle is in a hands-free zone.

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